Sunday, February 14, 2010

Night Of The Livid Gasheads



Picture the scene. It's the close of the evening, and the tube station escalator has just spat you back up into the outside, some spots of inky rain providing respite from the sheer, unadulterated chilliness of the previous two or three hours. These have been spent sitting wriggling on a cold wooden seat at Brisbane Road, watching your football team of choice implode their play-off dream by getting choicely and justly walloped 5-0 by a vaguely resurgent Leyton Orient. It's the worst performance you've seen from the Gas in nigh on 20 years.

Your tongue is scalded from the evening match-prescription hot chocolate, your fingers freezing even through your gloves, your face near-numb with cold, a hundred "for fff...."s having trailed off yr lips into the floodlit-hazy sky every time a shot went begging, a pass was skewed to an opponent, a run into space was almost *wilfully* left unmade. When you're virtually hoarse from ironic cheering, it's a sign that all has not progressed ultra-smoothly out on the pitch: the pending opportunity to deploy an obliquely inelegant Public Enemy-referencing pun in a blogpost title is but small consolation.

Now, you're nearly back at the ranch, almost home to the safety of your luxury penthouse pad (ha!), longing for an instant pick-me-up: something that can at least temporarily take your mind from the decadent fantasies of all the other, *cosier* ways you could have spent the evening, or spent the twenty-pound note you passed across at the turnstile when your heart was still full with hope. Key in the door, a sigh, and still shellshocked, you put the kettle on and reach (but of course) for the turntable...

The Garlands / The Sugarplums, then. 7" vinyl, in modestly stylish black / yellow sleeve. The latest 45 from the somewhat gently yielding Atomic Beat Records "production line", joining a leisurely but shockingly fine back catalogue that already boasts the Pains of Being Pure At Heart, the Parallelograms, Pete Green and Pocketbooks. So this is ABR 004, and it is truly bountiful.

The first side sees the Garlands - Christin Wolderth and Roger Gunnarson Esq, no less - build on their self-titled Cloudberry CD-r single with two absolute zingers, songs so storming that they could fell trees and boundary fences for miles around. "Open Arms" is candy-coloured, jangle-flavoured, classically-honed power pop at its absolute zenith, an action-packed 2 1/2 minutes (making it the longest track on the EP) that immediately stands with anything our heroes of yore managed to produce in the days when we were young and gambolled like newborn lambs in the occasionally-salubrious environs of the Jericho Tavern or the Fleece & Firkin or the Camden Falcon or wherever, the sort of supertune that rules in 2010 just as much as it would have done in 1987 or 1997, or any other election year you could care to name. The verse is so to-die-for that you're almost scrabbling around for your flick-knife, but when the chorus comes in it's a new adrenalin rush altogether, so to-live-for - Christin's voice sailing up somewhere towards the clouds - that you resume just dizzily nodding along.

"Tell Me" starts with chords distantly reminiscent of "London Calling" (so distantly that we wouldn't normally deign to mention it, save for the fact that "London Calling" had been played over the tannoy at Orient about every ten minutes, so it was still ringing in our heads rather). Anyway, even that foggy resemblance expires about ten seconds in, after which "Tell Me" reveals itself to be a slinkily groovy 111-second purepop belter, combining the lightness of touch of the Would-be-Goods with the incessant smile-inducing fast-burn of Roger's former dream team, Free Loan Investments (reckon we were entitled to expect this release to be as ace as is, given the things that the Free Loans' "The Last Dance" did to us last year), plus someone's clearly having a whale of a time with the drum machine. And best of all, this time there are no inadvised stabs at cover versions.

Half-time. We turn the record over. It occurs to us: would this record be such a "pick me up" if you couldn't actually pick it up ? The answer, of course, is no. Long live REAL records; viva vinyl.

For some reason we were expecting the Sugarplums, on the other side, to make the generic but soulless kind of indie-pop noise that's so prevalent at the moment (preconceptions of bands that involve scene playas, alas), but luckily we were wrong and their songs are triff too, albeit in a dimly Cause Co-Motion! / Beat Happening! kind of way rather than the Garlands' foxglove-fresh all out POP! assault. "April Again" has the Baltimore combo unravelling gruff (the vocals sound almost Huon-ish at outset), knowing whimsy alongside gloriously naked flickers of melody. There's some Pants Yell! in there, maybe, and an absolute truckload of beguiling charm. "Joyce's Bicycle Gang" ("kids on bikes! kids on bikes!") is in essence another song cut from the classic indie-pop template, however much the Sugarplums imbue it with an ounce or two of slacker chaos: this time we reckon we can detect a frisson of ye olde Iced Bears (when they were still 14 rather than Fourteen). Around twenty seconds from the end, a new guitar fuzzes just perfectly out of the left-hand speaker, gently guiding the bicycles to a gliding halt.

And that's it. Job done. When two 7"s as exciting as this and "La Caceria" come out within a matter of months of each other, all must be well even with this crazy world. Plus, these are two bands who actually like each other, we understand: just as well, if like us these affairs still make you think a little of A.C.'s somewhat seminal "No, We Don't Want To Do A Split 7 Inch With Your Fucking Band".

And as you savour your cup of tea you reflect. Maybe you were one of a mere 300 restless souls in the away end who had the dubious privilege of sharing Rovers' worst defeat in aeons, dooming you to eternal torment in the twelfth layer of hell, or something. But then you're also one of only 300 lucky bleeders in the world who gets to own this engagingly gutwarming little single. There's a Venn diagram in there somewhere, and tonight you're right in the middle of it, smiling through the pain. Result.

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